Energy bill

State Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, speaks on the Senate floor Monday in support of an energy regulation overhaul bill.

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SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate put the final legislative stamp on an energy regulation overhaul bill Monday, sending it to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who says he will sign it.

It’s the culmination of years of negotiation, and it marks a policy win on one of Pritzker’s biggest outstanding first-term campaign promises as the 2022 campaign heats up. The measure passed by a 37-17 vote, with Republicans Sue Rezin, of Morris, and John Curran, of Downers Grove, joining Democrats in support.

“After years of debate and discussion, science has prevailed, and we are charting a new future that works to mitigate the impacts of climate change here in Illinois,” Pritzker said. “(Senate Bill) 2408 puts the state on a path toward 100 percent clean energy and invests in training a diverse workforce for the jobs of the future.

“Illinois will become the best state in the nation to manufacture and drive an electric vehicle, and equity will be prioritized in every new program created.”

The final proposal forces fossil fuel plants offline by 2045, spends billions of dollars to subsidize renewable and nuclear energy to prevent plant closures, incentivizes the adoption of electric vehicles, funds workforce training programs and requires union labor on the installation of renewable infrastructure.

Advocates hailed it as a nation-leading climate bill, while downstate Republicans warned of its impact on consumer bills and energy grid reliability.

Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said it sets the state on an “aggressive and progressive” path toward decarbonization and renewable energy adoption, while leaving pathways for future General Assemblies to reassess the state’s energy needs through follow-up legislation.

The measure aims to put Illinois on a path to a carbon-free energy future by 2050 by doubling the state’s ratepayer investment in renewable energy and further subsidizing the state’s nuclear fleet. It aims to increase the portion of the state’s energy produced by renewables from less than 8 percent to 40 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2040.

The main provision in the bill that would push the state toward those ambitious goals is a massive increase of more than $350 million annually to the pot of money funding renewable projects. It also provides that more than $300 million already collected for renewables will be spent for such projects instead of being refunded to ratepayers despite previous deadlines having passed.

The bill also provides $694 million in total over a five-year period to subsidize three nuclear plants owned by Exelon Corporation, preventing the closure of a plant in Byron that Exelon said it would take offline Monday in the absence of legislative action. It issued a statement after the bill’s passage saying it would begin the refueling process.

Other expenditures include a $180 million annual investment in equity-based and “just transition” programs aiming to diversify the renewable industry and to provide out-of-work fossil fuel employees with a pathway to renewable energy jobs.

The bill also provides subsidies to convert coal-fired plants to solar or energy storage facilities at about $47 million annually starting in 2024.

While the subsidies and investment programs are staggered in their implementation dates, the Citizens Utility Board estimates that it will cause an increase to ratepayer bills of about $3 to $4 a month over the next five years.

In terms of percentages, bill sponsor Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, said residential electric bills would increase by about 3-4 percent, commercial bills by about 5-6 percent, and industrial bills by about 7-8 percent.

The senior advocacy group AARP estimated that number could be as high as $15 monthly for ratepayers, but advocates for the bill cite estimates in the CUB range.

Sen. Donald DeWitte, R-St. Charles, cited the AARP estimate and a Crain’s Chicago Business analysis which showed the increase could be between $7 and $8 monthly.

“The fact is, no one knows how much this piece of legislation is going to cost Illinois ratepayers,” he said. “What we do know is that it will be borne by all ratepayers in the state. I guess what we’re seeing and hearing today is that we’ll just have to watch our friends across the aisle pass this legislation, and then we’ll find out.”

The CUB analysis, meanwhile, said the investment in cheaper, renewable solar and wind energy could lead to lower costs for consumers over time.

Large-scale renewable projects will be required to have project labor agreements to employ union labor, and non-residential labor projects, with the exception of small churches, will be required to pay a prevailing wage.

That stipulation was part of the final compromise that brought union and environmental groups together on the bill, along with decarbonization provisions for municipal power plants.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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